SUNDAY – 23 OCTOBER
Woke up from my last night out in Cartagena oh so thankful that I had organized my things the night before. Had about 15 minutes to get dressed, book my hostel for the first night, and get some recommendations from a fellow traveler who had just come from Taganga before I was running out the door to catch the Marsol bus.
The 3 hour bus ride was not too eventful with the exception of sharing some mango I bought at a highway stop with the little old ladies sitting behind me on the bus. Their faces lit up when I offered some and was a favor which awarded me two things. First, at the next stop they offered me a some of their chilled coconuts which you first drink with a straw and then scoop out the meat inside. And second, they helped me to communicate to the driver to give me change for my fare on the bus which he had conveniently forgot to give me. Always share mango with the little old ladies on the bus, they will take care of you for the rest of the ride.
The Marsol bus takes you to the center of Santa Marta which was about another 20 minutes from Taganga. Since I was the last person on the bus, I paid the driver an extra $5.000 to take me directly to my hostel. There are cheaper options but I didn’t want to deal with lugging my larger bag around an unfamiliar place. He dropped me off at the Villa Mary hostel at around noon and little did I know that this would be the best hostel I have visited in my life thus far.
When I arrived, it was fairly empty, with only 2 other guest staying there. Milena, who lives and works at the hostel, is originally from Medellin but has been living here in Taganga for the past 3 months. After getting my bags settled, I asked Milena about where I could find a decent rate at a scuba school. You can always do your research online, but the best way to find the best deals is to ask ask ask. I emailed 3 schools before leaving Cartagena and they all quoted me prices to get my open water certification. When my friend at the hostel in Cartagena gave me recommendations for Taganga, I found out that Reef Sheperd charged much less. And when I asked Milena, she said that Reef Shepard also gives a discount for guests of Villa Mary. $73.63 USD off of my original quote just for asking around.
MONDAY – 24 OCTOBER
For a better idea of the sights and the sounds of Taganga, maybe you should listen to this song by Systema Solar, filmed in Taganga.
My first day of dive certification. In retrospect, this was a bigger day than I thought since I’m currently in love with the sport. My instructor was a Colombian named Santiago who found love for the practice in Thailand. We did our pool practice on the first day where I learned the basics of the equipment set up and use.
In the afternoon I wandered until I found myself on a little beach with only local fishermen which I’ve been now referring to as Playa de Pescadores. I took a nap there in the sun in an attempt to look like less of a gringo. When I woke up the fishermen were yelling “Hale!” (Pull!). I instinctively jumped up and made a hand motion to ask if they wanted my help to which they replied “Sí! Hale hale!”… we all pulled the net in for a bounty of a couple hundred fish. They said it was small for the day; and some days zero, other days a few thousand. I was awarded with an awful tasting cup of fire heated coffee which I happily enjoyed.
After they left, I buried my money under my sandals and took a big swim out to the middle of the bay. While there is a bit of grit on the town, from a distance Taganga is gorgeous. And since it is facing perfectly west, every night I get to watch the sun get swallowed up by the sea before showering off all the sweat of the day.
TUESDAY/WEDNESDAY – 25/26 OCTOBER
I woke up at 7 to have some breakfast in the hostel and then walked down to Reef Sheperd to get my gear together and then headed out by boat to some dive locations in Tayrona. I dove twice in the morning on both Tuesday and Wednesday. All four dives were about 45 minutes and we spent time going down to 18 meters. I was practically giddy after my first dive because I loved it so much.
First, it’s incredibly tranquil beneath the surface. After achieving bounancy, you can glide effortlessly in all 3 dimensions. Second, it was an amazing escape from my current language barriers. I spend most of my days either listening to locals chat in silence or trying to communicate in my broken Spanish. But once we submerge, every speaks the same language. Hand signals for “I’m OK”, “I’ve got 170 bar left in my tank”, or “Look at that lionfish over there”.
Speaking of lionfish, we saw a ton on our third dive. Fabio, one of the dive masters there was also spearfishing that day. Probably my favorite moment in all those dives was getting to see him spear a little one. Back up on the boat, I starting asking a lot questions about what they tasted like, where could I get some, how are they prepared. Fabio just laughed and told me to meet him back at the dive school an hour after we got back. When he returned on his motorcycle, he had prepared a little bowl of salad with 6 perfect pieces of breaded, fried lionfish with lemon and pepper. I don’t think I can go back to eating other fish now.
Pez Leon de Taganga
- 1 small lion fish
- lettuce, tomato, onion
- salt, pepper
- bread crumbs
- Spear lionfish at approximately 16 meters (or watched a more experienced diver do this)
- Remove poisonous spines underwater with knife and stash in your collection sack to bring up to the boat on the end of the dive (or again, let the pro handle this part)
- At home, cut into bite size pieces, dress with seasonings and lightly fry. Place on top of a small salad of lettuce, tomato, and onion (really you should just let Fabio do all of this)
We finished our dives at noon and I spent the afternoons either at the beach or exploring some more of the foods: empenadas, arroz de coco, and ceviche. One evening, I picked up some fish from the fishermen to make dinner back in the hostel. Another night, I went down to the dive school for a party they were throwing for a guy from Barcelona who just completed his dive master certification after one month. I was there for a while and it involved many bottles of rum, one of which was consumed through a snorkel by our Barcelonan friend.